laid bare | 

Former footballer speaks of paying price for years of addiction after 'quick cash' cocaine bust

Leo Jacques was sentenced after being caught with half a kilo of cocaine and a mixing agent last year

Leo Jacques

Eamon Dillon and Dymphna Nugent

THE fall from grace of a keen footballer caught with a half kilo of cocaine and a mixing agent has laid bare how organised crime gangs suck people into their underworld.

Leo Jacques, a talented amateur soccer player in Waterford struggling with debts and a legacy of addictions, fell prey to the promise of some quick cash.

But Jacques and Longford man Jason McKeown were both sentenced at Waterford Circuit Court to a year in prison for their part in moving the drugs and cash.

Both men pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and possession of drugs for sale and supply

A garda on patrol had spotted Jaques driving a white van which he knew was not his normal vehicle and tailed him to a retail park on the edge of Waterford city in January 2021.

He watched as Jacques exchanged bags in broad daylight with McKeown and called in colleagues to help make the arrests.

It turned out the Waterford man had taken possession of a half-kilo block of cocaine along with three tubs of benzococaine, a dental painkiller used by drug dealers to bulk out coke.

When other officers caught up to McKeown he was found to have €63,900 in a bag and told gardaí: "I'm only the taxi man."

In a series of interviews with officers, Jacques explained how he got a call to meet a man who handed him money and a phone.

He was then told to go to the car park where he knew he was collecting drugs but had no idea of the quantity involved.

If everything went to plan he was promised he would get €7,000.

Meanwhile, McKeown had left Longford at 1am and met a stranger in Mullingar who gave him a package to deliver to Waterford.

He told gardaí that he had no idea what was in the bag. But he said it looked like the kind of exchange which took place on television and so he assumed it was cocaine.

It was also heard in court how both men had struggled with drug addiction at different stages and had been in debt.

Jacques had a Xanax and cocaine addiction in the past and also had a serious gambling addiction, which caused significant debts to mount.

His defence team told the court that he was once a very successful soccer player in the area, that he worked as a horticulturist and that this act was completely out of character for him.

He had borrowed money from money lenders and agreed to the exchange in the car-park to try to reduce the debt. He also ran up a drug debt from an addiction between 2015 and 2018.

McKeown, who had been treated previously for depression and was addicted to cocaine, at one time spending €800 per week on his addiction.

He told gardaí the did not know what he was going to be paid for being 'the taxi man' but he understood it was in the region of €300, which was to be used to reduce his debt.

Judge Eugene O'Kelly said the €7,000 promised to Jacques must be contrasted with the €300 McKeown was to receive.

He said Jacques was presumably being used by a criminal gang because he was "cloaked in respectability".

Judge O'Kelly said of Jacques: "It is a great personal tragedy to find himself in the receipt of such a sentence. He must hear the sound of the prison door closing behind him."

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